An Interview with Judy Penz Sheluk

Judy Penz ShelukCheck out The Hanged Man’s Noose as well as Skeletons in the Attic, due out August 21st.

What do you write, and why?

I write crime fiction. My novels are what I like to call “amateur sleuth with an edge.” That means my protagonists are amateur sleuths and the books are set in the requisite small town but there are no white picket fences, cats, crafts or cookie recipes. My short crime fiction is varied.


When and where do you write?

When I’m working on a book, I try to write a chapter a day, though it doesn’t always work out that way. I’m also the Senior Editor of New England Antiques Journal and the Editor of Home Builder Canada (string enough writing jobs together, you can almost earn a living…emphasis on the almost), so the time of day I write fiction fluctuates based on my deadlines for the magazines.

I always write in my home office, on my iMac, with talk radio on. I can’t imagine writing in a coffee shop.


How do you write?

I’m a complete panster. The chapter a day thing works for me because I have no idea where I’m going with my story, so I try to leave each chapter with enough of a hook that I’ll want to come back and write the next day. When I’m writing a short story, I’ll try to get the basic draft done in a couple of days. Then I get to work.

What do you read, and who?

Primarily mystery and suspense, though I also read other fiction. My favorite current-day authors, in no particular order, are: Michael Connelly, John Sandford, Tana French, Sara J. Henry, Louise Penny, Sue Grafton and Kristina Stanley. I grew up on Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, Ed McBain, Dick Francis and John D. MacDonald. I’ve read every book by every one of those authors.

When do you read, and why?

I read every day, usually after dinner. It relaxes me. Reading is also the best teacher. When I decided to try my hand at short stories, I read several anthologies.

What was the biggest obstacle you faced when writing your last book?

Finding the time every day. Some days, it’s really hard…

Give aspiring writers some good advice.

I always quote Agatha Christie whenever I’m asked this question: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

Plug your next book.

Skeletons in the Attic: A Marketville Mystery (#1) [August 21, 2016: Imajin Books]

What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t always stay there…Calamity (Callie) Barnstable isn’t surprised to learn she’s the sole beneficiary of her late father’s estate, though she is shocked to discover she has inherited a house in the town of Marketville—a house she didn’t know existed. However, there are conditions attached to Callie’s inheritance: she must move to Marketville, live in the house, and solve her mother’s murder.

Callie’s not keen on dredging up a thirty-year-old mystery, but if she doesn’t do it, there’s a scheming psychic named Misty Rivers who is more than happy to expose the Barnstable family secrets. Determined to thwart Misty and fulfill her father’s wishes, Callie accepts the challenge. But is she ready to face the skeletons hidden in the attic?

comicalTell me something funny.

A few years ago, a friend asked me to come to her Girl Guide troop’s career night to talk about being a writer. I was ridiculously excited about it. After all, I wanted to be a writer since reading Emily Climbs by L.M. Montgomery, and I’d been about nine at the time. Maybe I could inspire a young girl!

It turned out that the other career night speaker made dolls. That’s right. Dolls. Dolls who had hair and eyes that could be interchangeable to match their owner’s hair and eyes. Let’s just say I did not have the troop leaning on my every word!

SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC is now available for pre-order on Amazon Kindle for the special introductory price of .99 (reg. $4.99). Find it here :

Judy Penz Sheluk, Author

The Hanged Man’s Noose (July 2015): Now available at all the usual suspects.

Skeletons in the Attic (coming August 21, 2016)


An Interview with Paul D. Marks

motivemeansopportunityIt’s our great pleasure to have Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning author on MMO today. Read about his writing process, how to write cinematically, the difference between noir and mystery. . .and much more! Check it out!


MMO: White Heat won the Shamus Award back in 2013. I really dig the setting (Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots) as well as Duke Rogers (the P.I. protagonist).  Did you have the setting/context in mind first, or the character? How did that whole book “come together”?

Paul: It’s kind of like the chicken and egg question, isn’t it? And after all this time and so many words under the bridge also a little hard to remember. But setting and context are always important to me. People have said that Los Angeles (in particular) is like another character in my books and stories. I think the character of a city influences the characters and the actions they take. The L.A. atmosphere/culture drives what my characters do and say, at least to some extent. While people have a lot in common, they’re different in L.A. than Manhattan or Wichita or Macon. So, add to that the acquittal of the police officers in the Rodney King beating trial. That and the subsequent riots were events that deeply scarred and shaped Los Angeles in the 1990s, and even to today. Having lived in Los Angeles during that era, I wanted to capture that time and place and tell people about it in a way that wasn’t preachy. And what better way to do that than to put my P.I. in the middle of it?

The other spark (no pun intended) for the story was the Rebecca Schaeffer murder. She was an up and coming actress, who was murdered by a fan who had hired a P.I. to find her physical address in pre-internet days. She was expecting a script delivery that day and opened the door not knowing that a stalker would be there, gun in hand. I wondered about the P.I. who found that address for her killer and what he/she must have felt. So those are the two sides of the story, Duke, the P.I., and the King riots, coming together to make White Heat.


MMO: Not to spoil anything, but there are some very clipped, intensely dramatic italicized sections in White Heat that serve to heighten the tension. How’d you come up with that?

Paul: I’m glad you think they were intense and dramatic. My purpose in doing those sections was to give a heightened sense of being there. They’re written, as you say, in clipped, staccato prose and also in the present tense to really (hopefully) bring the reader into the moment and feel the intensity and drama that the character is feeling at that moment. Sort of to become the character for those sections and totally be inside his head. There was an old TV show called You Are There that put the viewer into historic situations. This is my version of that – you are there with Duke, seeing the situation live.

white heat

MMO: In all your books—White Heat, Vortex, and L.A. @ Late at Night—I’ve noticed how cinematic your writing is. Talk about where (and how) that came about.

Paul: Well, my background is in screenplays, script doctoring, so naturally my writing gravitates towards that style. It can be a good thing because I think screenwriting taught me story structure and to be visual. But it can also be a handicap in that I had to work hard to fill out my descriptions more and not use an omnipotent POV like movies do. And I’m a big movie buff, especially film noir (particularly the golden age of film noir in the ’40s and early ’50s) and thrillers, so I tend to play out my storyline like a movie in my head as I’m writing. And sometimes I’ll even write out my first draft in screenplay format just to get the story down.


MMO: I’m not terribly interested in genre-labeling, but I would say that White Heat is a P.I. mystery, while Vortex is a straight-up noir thriller. Explain some of the similarities and differences between these two genres. And, as a writer, do you have a preference? How about as a reader?

Paul: I’ll give you that Vortex is a straight-up noir thriller. But I’d also say that White Heat is noir as well, though it does have more “straight” mystery elements than Vortex. To me, the thing that most makes something noir is not rain, not shadows, not femme fatales, not slumming with lowlifes. It’s a character who trips over their own faults: somebody who has some kind of defect, some kind of shortcoming, greed, want or desire…temper or insecurity, that leads them down a dark path, and then his or her life spins out of control because of their own weaknesses or failings. To this end, White Heat falls into this category because Duke’s weakness for quick money sets the plot in motion. But since we don’t know who the bad guy is and Duke has to figure that out it also has that whodunit element. Whereas Vortex has a darker, more ambivalent tone, and Zach, the main character, his problems are totally brought on by his own weaknesses.  As a writer I like both and maybe that’s why WH is a little of both. And ditto as a reader: I like to read a variety of things depending on my mood. My favorite writers are Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald, who are both straight mystery writers. And James Ellroy, who is more noir. And David Goodis, who is totally noir.


MMO: In addition to publishing a collection of hard-and-soft-boiled stories, you’ve had a short story nominated/short-listed for the Macavity Award. Explain to other writers out there why writing short stories is a) fun and b) worthwhile.

Paul: I’ve had over thirty short stories published now in a variety of magazines, anthologies and the like. But one of my many goals had been to break into Ellery Queen and I did with my story “Howling at the Moon.” It was nominated for both the Anthony and Macavity Awards in 2015, as well as coming in #7 in Ellery Queen’s Readers Poll Award, so all of that was very cool.

Why short stories are Fun: Immediate gratification. There’s a certain immediate gratification in writing short stories. You can finish them faster (usually than novels) and get the instant “joy” of having a completed work – and often sell them and see them in print faster than a novel. They’re like little puzzles that you fit in all the pieces and feel a sense of satisfaction when you make them fit.

Why short stories are Worthwhile: Stories help you hone your craft. In some ways they’re harder than writing novels. You really need discipline to make everything work right in a confined space. They’re also a way to get your name out there. Lots of little markets (some non-paying, some token payment) are willing to take an unpublished writer. They get exposure for your writing. They’re also a good outlet for some ideas that might not have enough meat on them to make a novel. And you can explore different styles, genres and characters and sometimes realize that you want to pursue a novel length work after discovering a story and character you like in a short story. And I like the challenge and discipline of squeezing a thousand things into a tiny box. There’s really no downside to writing stories. I like doing both novels and short stories.


MMO: Name three writers that made you want to write, and why.

Paul: How about three writers who made me want to write mysteries and/or noir, ’cause I can’t remember far enough back to who might have inspired me to want to write in the first place. But my initial interest was in writing for film, so my early influences are probably screenwriters. From there I gravitated to prose. It’s not very original but Raymond Chandler would be number one with a bullet on my list. I always liked film noir and mystery-suspense-thriller movies. And, of course, I’d seen The Big Sleep with Bogart many times. So eventually I got around to reading the book it was based on. From there I dove into more Chandler. The same thing happened with another Bogart movie: I’d seen Dark Passage several times and finally decided to check out the book it was based on. That turned me onto David Goodis. My favorite of his is Down There, a.k.a. Shoot the Piano Player. I really dig that book, but for me the movie disappoints.



MMO: Give aspiring writers some brief advice.

Paul: Don’t give up. Keep writing, you will become a better writer through experience and practice. Don’t give in to writers block, just sit down and write, regardless of what comes out. Fix it later. And don’t make excuses about why you don’t have time to write. I know a lot of people who say they’re writers or want to be…but they don’t write anything or they write very little. It’s not easy, but a writer is someone who has to write and can’t live without it.

MMO: Tell me when I can expect the next Duke Rogers book.

Paul: Oh, the long and winding road and tale of woe that is Broken Windows, the sequel to White Heat. Broken Windows was tied up with an agent for a long, long time. Unfortunately, she never did anything with it, never sent it out. I think she’d gotten sick and it sort of languished. I’ve got it back now and it’s done, so hopefully it’ll be out before the next millennium.


MMO: Plug/pimp your next writing project.

Paul: Lots of stuff coming up. My story “Deserted Cites of the Heart” comes out in Akashic’s St. Louis Noir anthology on August 2nd. Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, which I co-edited, is the second book in the Coast to Coast anthology series and should hopefully be out by the end of the year. And one of the stories in the first volume is up for a Shamus Award this year. I’ll have a short story in volume 2, as well as it being filled with great stories by a bunch of great writers. I’ll have stories out in both Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazines, though they’re not scheduled yet so I can’t give you dates. And, of course, I’m working on a couple of novels. Not Duke Rogers stories, but standalones. Some good stuff, I think, but I’m not ready to say exactly what they are just yet. My plate’s always full, but sometimes I’m just too busy to get to some of the things on it. I guess I need to go back to my answer about writers needing to write – I need to take my own advice on that.

Thanks for having me, Max. It’s been a blast.

Paul D. Marks photo

Author Bio

Paul D. Marks is the author of the Shamus Award-Winning mystery-thriller White Heat. Publishers Weekly calls White Heat a “taut crime yarn.” And Midwest Book Review says “White Heat is a riveting read of mystery, much recommended.” His story Howling at the Moon is short listed for both this year’s (2015) Anthony Award and Macavity Award for Best Short Story. It was published in the November 2014 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and came in #7 in their Reader’s Poll Award. And he just sold another story, Ghosts of Bunker Hill, to Ellery Queen (publication date to be announced later). His story Fade Out will be in an upcoming Akashic’s Mondays Are Murder in August. And his latest noir-thriller, Vortex, will be out in early summer, 2015. He is the co-editor of the anthology Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea, coming in 2015 from Down and Out Books. Paul is also the author of over thirty published short stories in a variety of genres, including several award winners. Five of his stories can be found in the collection LA Late @ Night. According to Steven Bingen, author of MGM: Hollywood’s Greatest Backlot, he [Paul] has the distinction, dubious though it might be, of being the last person to have shot a film on the fabled MGM backlot before it bit the dust to make way for condos.




My Writing Story in One Word

By Max Everhart (originally published on Suite T, August 1, 2014)

I first began writing seriously about nine years ago when I was working on a Master’s degree in English, and almost every day between then and now, I’ve received and read literally hundreds, perhaps thousands of tips on being a successful writer.

And almost all of them were good.


But the best advice I ever read was from the novelist Richard Bach: “A professional writer is an amateur writer who didn’t quit.”



Perseverance, in my opinion, is the most important quality a writer can possess. Perseverance is the ultimate trump card, and it’s far more important than talent or luck or even connections in the publishing world, although all of those are wonderful and certainly helpful.  But perseverance is what is going to get a writer to sit down and write.  Everyday.  No matter what.

Perseverance, it ain’t sexy, but it’s powerful, especially if you are one of the chosen ones who have talent.

And here’s the best part: you’re not born with perseverance; it can be learned and developed.  The only real question you should ever ask yourself is, “How hard am I willing to work to become a successful writer?”  

go go gato
Mystery/private eye

Which brings me to my debut novel Go Go Gato I did some calculations and figured out that by the time a publisher accepted that book in October of 2013, I’d already written roughly 300,000 words of fiction, which didn’t include the four or five stories that had been published in small journals and literary magazines. (Note: I made no money on these stories).  However, the 300,000 words did include twenty or so unpublished short stories and one full-length novel that my wife, God bless her, correctly concluded was “not good at all.”

Now, all those rejections I received from editors, agents, publishers, and even my wife were painful, but the pain was useful.  It was instructive.  Those rejections forced me to dig deeper, and I came to a sobering conclusion: I wasn’t good enough, yet.  Those editors, agents, publishers, and yes, my wife, they were right to reject my work.  Just as I was right to work harder at my craft, to keep sending my best possible work out into the world, and now, on August 1st, my dream of being a published novelist will come true.  Only took nine years.  But it was worth it.

bottom line

Bottom line, we spend time on the things we value most, so if you want to be a successful writer, work hard, harder, hardest.

In a word: persevere.

Max enjoys hearing from fans and critics, so find him on the Internet. Just Google his name.

Pro or Not Pro? That is the Question


Are you a professional writer, or an amateur? This is an interesting question, one that E. Michael Helms has touched on previously here at MMO. But I thought I’d throw in my opinion on the subject.  The answer to the pro-or-not-pro question isn’t totally dependent on money.  Yes, if you’ve earned even one dollar on your writing, then, technically, you’re a professional. But I have a different take. To me, you’re a professional writer when and only when you start acting like it. 



Here’s what I mean. I’ve earned some money–very, very little money–on my books, but I was a “pro” long before I signed a contract with a publisher. Why? Because for years I’ve (tried) to approach writing like a job, which means I write when I feel like it AND when I don’t feel like it.  I write about every day regardless of what else is going on in my life. I’m a clock-puncher when it comes to producing novels, and I firmly believe in the 10,000 hour rule outlined in Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent book Outliers.  I write; I try not to talk too much about writing, or act like a writer, or dress like a writer.  It’s about the work. No more, no less. And that, to me, is the key difference between a pro and a hobbyist, between a writer who could possibly be monetarily successful at some point, and a writer who will, sooner or later, quit writing altogether. In a word, it’s about work.


That said, lately my attitude (as well as my approach) to writing has changed. I no longer write every single day, no matter what. Often, I’ll work on my WIP for several days in a row, and then leave it for a week, sometimes longer. This, granted, isn’t the most efficient method, but I’m comfortable with it, and the stuff I’m writing is getting more and more interesting (to me, anyway). I no longer type up contracts stating that I will have a rough draft of a book by a certain date. And since I am no longer under contract with a publisher, I’m free of those more legalistic deadlines, too. I don’t like deadlines, anyway. Or rules. The only rules I (or any other writer/artist) should have to follow are ones the writer/artist set for his/herself. Ignore any others, I say.

Discussion Questions

  1. When do you consider someone a professional writer?
  2. What type of approach do you take to your writing? What is your process?
  3. Do you think it matters about the label, professional or amateur?

Max enjoys hearing from fans (and critics), so email him at, like his Facebook page, or visit his author website.



The Promise of the P.I.: Disputing Claims that Private Investigators Shouldn’t Be in Modern Mysteries

By Max Everhart

On Wednesday, I read an interesting post entitled “The Perils of the Private Eye” by K.D. Hays. Found on Southern Writers Magazine’s blog Suite T, the article works from the premise that it is “a bad idea to use a private detective in a modern mystery.” Hays makes some relevant points to argue her case, but many of them seem to only apply to her work, which I confess I haven’t read.


My opinion, the PI genre is one of the more enjoyable, dynamic, and elastic genres out there, and I wanted to defend it a bit. So I’ve copy/pasted passages from Hays’s article below and offered up rebuttals to her arguments.

1)      First of all, there is no such thing as a private detective. Detectives work for the police. “Private eyes” work for investigation firms, and most of their business consists of doing background checks. Clients often hire investigators to find out who’s stealing from them, but they don’t hire them to solve murders. So if the lead character is a private investigator, she’s not going to be solving murders, and most people pick up a mystery expecting to find at least one or two dead bodies lurking in the pages.

Perhaps I’m quibbling over a silly point, but not all private eyes work for investigation firms. (I’m reading American Detective by Loren Estleman, and Amos Walker does not work for an investigation firm.) In fact, I’d wager that an overwhelming majority of real PIs are solo freelancers because, technology being so readily available to all, they can be. Too, many real and fictional PIs start off as police officers and get burned out.  Why? Because of the corruption and bureaucracy in the legal system, for starters. There is a long and rich tradition in the PI genre of former cops who want to provide investigative services without having to put up with silly regulations and inter-departmental politics, so these PIs move from the collective (police force) to the individual (private investigations). Read literally any Chandler or MacDonald mystery: the theme of legal versus moral shows up again, and again, and again. The PI knows, on a personal level, what is right and wrong; he doesn’t need the police or a government agency to tell him.


To Hays’s point about PIs not solving murders. Of course, that’s true, but I hasten to add that many PI mysteries begin as a simple job–snooping on a wife, for instance–and then that job turns into a murder mystery; when it does, the private investigator is already involved in the case, and there’s your murder mystery.  That said, I reject the premise that a mystery must have a murder in order to be good or even marketable.  My second novel Split to Splinters, which is up for a Shamus Award, does not involve murder; corruption, greed, deceit, baseball, fame, money, sibling rivalry, sex, hubris, and theft, but not murder.

2)      The second problem with using a private investigator as my fictional crime solver is that a competent investigator already has a pretty good idea “whodunit” by the time he or she goes out to a site to investigate. There may be a couple of suspects, but nowhere near the number of red herrings that are required to sustain a good mystery plot.

Again, I reject the premise that there aren’t enough “red herrings” and “suspects” in a PI mystery. That, to me, goes toward the simplistic thinking that a PI mystery is all about plot (the WHAT happened). Characters that are carefully drawn will reveal themselves to have complex motives, and they will not be so easily identified by the reader as the person “whodunit.”

computer work

  3)      A third problem with using a private investigator as my fictional detective is that most investigation work these days is done on the computer.

Herein lies my biggest issue with Hays’s stance on the PI genre. She is, in my opinion, completely missing the ethos of the private eye. As I alluded to above, a private eye is an iconoclast, a male or female who operates under his or her own set of morals, and often those morals are more rigid and personal than the ethics and standards of the police force and other government agencies.  (Private eyes having troubled/complicated relationships with law enforcement is an enduring and, in my view, cherished troupe of the PI genre.) So while a real private investigator probably does spend a ton of time on the computer, a good fictional PI (like Eli Sharpe) knows that “Shoe leather solves cases, not bandwidth.” No piece of technology can replace looking into a suspect’s eyes and “reading him.”  No gadget imaginable is as effective as an experienced private eye sitting across from a suspect and asking him questions, gauging his body language, his speech, his demeanor.  That will never go out of style. Neither will the PI genre. But I could be wrong.


I don’t think the overarching point of Hays’s article was to trash the PI genre.  I believe she was attempting to expound on how she developed, through trial and error, the protagonist featured in her own cozy mystery, and if you read the entire piece, I think you’ll agree she is successful on that score. However, I just happen to disagree with many of her conclusions regarding my favorite literary genre. Either way, if you’re interested here is a link to her novel called Roped In.


Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with any/some/all of Hays’s assertions about private investigators? If so, which ones?
  2. Do you think a mystery must involve murder?
  3. How often do you read PI mysteries?

Max likes to hear from fans (and critics), so email him at, like his Facebook page, or visit his website.



Is There a Book Bubble?: Discussing a Novel’s Market Value

max picBy Max Everhart

A general observation:  the number of people reading novels is dwindling, while the number of people publishing novels is increasing.  I could be wrong, but it seems to me we have a serious supply and demand problem.  Between all the publishing platforms, we are creating a seemingly endless supply (books) for a demand (readers) that doesn’t really exist. Does anyone else find this to be true?  Surely, I can’t be the only one.  I actually saw a FB post the other day that read: “Everybody writes, nobody reads.” How true.  True-ish, anyway.  Is it possible that I’m making a false assumption about the ratio of books to willing readers?  Perhaps.  After all, a good deal of my FB friends are writers, so, naturally, my feed is clogged with stuff about their work, which makes me think that literally everyone is not only writing (#amwriting), but publishing (#HappyPubDay). And, generally speaking, that is a good thing. Writers have lots of publishing options, and the more options the better, right?


Sure, I’m glad that all writers have an opportunity to put their work out there. The Internet, an egalitarian forum if ever there was one, allows people everywhere to make their books (and blogs!) available to any and all who care to read them. But when it comes to publishing platforms, with the dog come the fleas. The more books available for purchase, the less valuable each book is. The product itself (a novel) is devalued because there is a surplus of inventory.  Compare books to the US dollar. Every time the government decides to print more cash and put it into circulation the dollars already in circulation become a little less valuable. Similarly, every time a new book comes on the market, the other available books are devalued, which, in turn, creates intense competition and drives the cost way down. Too, from my perspective as an avid reader, I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of choices. I liken shopping on Amazon for Kindle books to entering a store that has items overflowing the shelves and spilling onto the floor and every other available surface. It’s maddening.

What I’m trying to say is this: we’re about to experience another “bubble”. . .a BOOK BUBBLE. The market is truly saturated.

books expensive

I saw the above on twitter the other day, and it got me thinking about what we value these days. Of course, I understand the intent behind this tweet, and, in spirit, I agree. I’d love it if people valued books more than coffee as I love reading and writing books, and, because of a minor heart problem, I no longer drink coffee, which is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions in my view.  But I’m also a cynic/realist: many people, for better or worse, value coffee more than they value books. Fine, I accept that. I’m not in the habit of trying to change the way people think or feel or shop. In addition to being a realist, I’m also cheap; $4.99 is a lot of money, so I sympathize with those casual, budget-conscious readers who don’t want to spend a whole lot on books. I don’t think there is anything wrong with bargain hunting, even when it comes to books.


Coffee and books: let’s deconstruct those two items for a moment, try to better understand their true market value. Indulge me a quick evaluation.  Coffee is quick, its effects immediate. You buy a latte, take a sip, feel satisfaction. It’s a chemical and physical response that is super-quick.  People–a lot of people–are willing to pay five dollars and up for a cup of coffee.  So that is coffee’s market value.  Books, at least the ebooks alluded to in the above tweet, don’t command as high a price.  A book’s effects aren’t as immediate as coffee’s; with a book, the payoff is delayed, and, for the most part, less physical in nature (caffeine is a drug, after all). Drinking coffee requires no discipline, but reading an entire book does.  Whether the book starts off with a bang or a whimper, reading to the end of the book is the primary goal (think: payoff), and that, according to Kindle, can take upwards of four hours. Imagine that! Four whole hours reading! Many people don’t have the time or the inclination to stick with anything that long. Delving a bit deeper, the intrinsic value of a book is unique to each potential reader and cannot be measured in monetary terms. Ah, but the extrinsic value of a book is most definitely quantifiable. Hence, many people feel that an ebook priced at $4.99 or higher is too expensive. That’s an ebook’s market value. Put another way, like a car or a house or a grape, a book is worth precisely what a reader is willing to pay for it, and many readers these days don’t want to pay $4.99. And while that makes me sad (or sad-ish), it’s the way the market works.

my point

To a larger point: just because an author spends years writing a book doesn’t automatically mean that book has more value than a cup of coffee. It might. It could. But a book, despite the author’s hard work, is not innately worth more than a coffee. Or a sock. Or a walnut. Sorry, it just isn’t. Art’s monetary value was, has, and always will be completely subjective. Example: I wouldn’t pay ten bucks for those silly Campbell’s soup cans by Warhol.  I love books. I read them everyday. I pay for books. I review books.  I write books. But I’m not so solipsistic to think that because I love them everybody else should, too, and they should pay a certain amount for them. I don’t think my books are worth $4.99. Or $1.99. I think my books are worth whatever someone is willing to pay (or not pay). Period.

Back to something I’d written in a previous MMO post: If you want to be a successful writer, you need to manage your expectations. You need to find joy in the process, and not worry too much about sales. Easy advice to give, tough advice to follow. At this point in my career, I’m trying to seek fulfillment in the process of writing. (Or not writing; lately, I’ve been watching the UEFA 2016 Championships on ESPN in lieu of working on my novel. Being a slacker isn’t so bad.) I accept the fact that by writing more novels and publishing them I’m creating more supply where there is, essentially, no demand, and I have mixed feelings about that. As an obscure novelist, I often feel like a well-made VCR in the digital streaming age. My only hope is that some people out there have dusty VHS copies of Mermaid and need a VCR. If so, I’m around. So are my books.


Discussion Questions

  1. Are we on the verge of a book bubble? What do you think will happen if the bubble bursts?
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My Top 10 Shamus Award Books from 1982-2015

By Max Everhart


Grateful is my word of the day because Split to Splinters (Eli Sharpe #2) is a finalist in the Best P.I. Paperback Original category for the 2016 Shamus Awards.

Bill Pronzini.  Harlan Coben. Robert Crais. Dennis Lehane. Alison Gaylin. Paul D. Marks. M. Ruth Myers. These are just some of the many previous Shamus Award winners/finalists whose work I greatly admire, whose books have entertained, thrilled, challenged, and inspired me.  My love of reading is the main reason I started writing, and today, I’m feeling particularly grateful to all the aforementioned novelists for providing the blueprint on how to craft a first-rate mystery.  I’m also grateful to my publisher Camel Press for nominating my book.


I’m also grateful to The Private Eye Writers of America, not only for selecting my book as a finalist, but for staying committed to celebrating, recognizing, and elevating the sometimes maligned P.I. genre.  Without PEWA, an organization that I use as a source for book recommendations, I might never have discovered many of my favorite sleuths such as Elvis Cole, Myron Bolitar, and Maggie Sullivan. For that, too, I thank you.

I’m so excited to be going to Bouchercon in New Orleans this fall that I went back and scoured all of the Shamus Award winners and finalists from 1982 through 2015.  Rediscovering some of my absolute favorite P.I. novels made me create a top ten list that I’m dying to share with everyone. So, if you’ve read these, good work! If you haven’t, you’re welcome. . . and get on it.

My Top 10 Favorite Shamus Award-Winning-or-Finalist Books (in no particular order)

  1. Gone Baby Gone–Dennis Lehane.  In Gone, Baby, Gone, the master of the new noir, New York Times bestselling author Dennis Lehane (Mystic River, Shutter Island), vividly captures the complex beauty and darkness of working-class Boston. A gripping, deeply evocative thriller about the devastating secrets surrounding a little girl lost, featuring the popular detective team of Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro, Gone, Baby, Gone was the basis for the critically acclaimed motion picture directed by Ben Affleck and starring Casey Affleck, Ed Harris, and Morgan Freeman.
  2. Don’t Dare a DameM. Ruth Myers. Tea with two spinsters thrusts 1930s private investigator Maggie Sullivan into an explosive mix of murder, political rivalries and family secrets. Pursuing their case means risking not only her life, but her detective license.
  3. Fade AwayHarlen Coben. In novels that crackle with wit and suspense, Harlan Coben has created one of the most fascinating heroes in suspense fiction: the wisecracking, tenderhearted sports agent Myron Bolitar. In this gripping third novel in the acclaimed series, Myron must confront a past that is dead and buried—and more dangerous than ever before.
  4. And She WasAlison Gaylin. A breathtaking novel of suspense, Gaylin’s And She Was introduces a remarkable new protagonist: Brenna Spector, a missing persons investigator afflicted with Hyperthymestic Syndrome, a rare disorder that enables her to remember every moment of every day of her life. A twisting mystery, both chilling and surprising, And She Was sets the haunted investigator on the trail of a missing child who vanished more than a decade earlier—a case with disturbing echoes in Brenna’s own scrupulously remembered past.
  5. White HeatPaul D. Marks. Days before the verdict is read in the Rodney King Case in Los Angeles back in the 1992, a weasely little man walks into private detective Duke Rogers office and asks him to locate an old friend, Teddie Matson. The guy is white and Teddie is black, and Los Angeles is just about ready to explode due to racial tensions, but Duke isn’t thinking about that, just the $250 he’ll make on the easy case.
  6. Sunset ExpressRobert Crais. Prominent restaurateur Teddy Martin is facing charges in his wife’s brutal murder. But he’s not going down without spending a bundle of cash on his defense. So his hotshot attorney hires P.I. Elvis Cole to find proof that Detective Angela Rossi tampered with the evidence. Rossi needs a way back to the fast track after falling hard during an internal investigation five years ago. But Cole needs to know if she’s desperate enough to falsify the case against Martin in order to secure her own position. As Cole and his partner Joe Pike work their way through a tangle of witnesses and an even greater tangle of media, they begin to suspect that it’s not the police who are behind the setup.
  7. BoobytrapBill Pronzini. Emotionally exhausted from the events surrounding his partner’s suicide, “Nameless” welcomes the chance for a quiet vacation that comes when San Francisco Assistant District Attorney Patrick Dixon proposes that the burnt-out detective drive Dixon’s wife and son to their summer cottage on a remote High Sierra lake. In exchange, “Nameless” will have a week’s free use of a neighboring cabin.
  8. Big City, Bad BloodSean Chercover. Disillusioned newspaper reporter-turned-private detective Ray Dudgeon doesn’t want to save the world; he just wants to do an honest job well. But when doing an honest job threatens society’s most powerful and corrupt, Ray’s odds of survival make for a sucker’s bet . . .
  9. Fatal Flaw–William Lasher. Ethically adventurous Philadelphia lawyer Victor Carl usually does the right thing, but often for the wrong reasons. When old law school classmate Guy Forrest is accused of murdering his beautiful lover, Hailey Prouix, in their Main Line love nest, Carl agrees to represent him — while keeping silent about his own prior romantic involvement with the victim, and his present determination to see that his client is punished for the brutal crime. But once Carl sets the machinery of retribution in motion, it may be impossible to stop it, even after his certainty begins to crack. Now Victor Carl must race across the country to uncover shocking truths: Who, really, was Hailey Prouix? And why is a killer still waiting in her shadow?
  10. Dancing BearJames Crumley. Detective Milo Dragovitch spends too much time boozing until he gets caught up in a case involving two-bit criminals and an old lady on the run.
    His friends call him Milo. No one has ever called him Bud except his father, long dead, and now Sarah Weddington, stirring painful memoires and offering him his first case since he abandoned his private practice and took a job marking time on the night shift for Haliburton Security. The case seems almost too easy, hardly worth the large fee, just to satisfy this old woman’s curiosity. But things are soon exploding all over the place and Milo is turning up grenades, machine guns, a kilo of marijuana and a bag of coke  . . . and suddenly Milo is on the run.

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